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What is the Mediterranean Diet?

The Mediterranean diet is a heart healthy eating plan. The primary focus of this diet are plants and healthy fats. This type of diet is adapted from the traditional flavors and cooking styles of the Mediterranean countries and focuses on the eating patterns across many different Mediterranean countries. That is why there is no single definition of the diet and you can tailor it to your specific needs.

The types of foods eaten on the Mediterranean diet include lots of vegetables, fruits, beans, lentils and nuts. Large amounts of whole grains including whole bread and brown rice are included. Healthy sources of fat such as extra virgin olive oil are used abundantly the diet. Fish rich in omega 3 fatty acids are used in moderation as well as a moderate amount of cheese and yogurt. Meat is eaten in small quantities. Poultry rather than red meat is encouraged.

One important fact about the Mediterranean diet is that through extensive research, it has been found to support heart health.  By following the Mediterranean diet individuals can lower their risk of cardiovascular disease, maintain a healthy body weight, blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. The Mediterranean diet has also been shown to decrease inflammation and promote a healthy digestive tract, it can lower your risk for developing certain types of cancer, and slows the decline of brain function in aging.

All of the different nutrients found in the Mediterranean diet work together to support overall health. It is the combination of all of the foods in the diet that provide health benefits.  Additionally, the Mediterranean diet limits saturated fat and trans fats. Consuming too much saturated fat can raise your low density (LDL) or bad cholesterol. High levels of LDL increase the risk of plaque buildup in the arteries.  There are no health benefits in trans-fat. Both of these types of fats can cause inflammation.

Furthermore, the Mediterranean diet promotes healthy unsaturated fats, including omega 3 fatty acids. These fats promote healthy cholesterol levels, support brain health, and counter inflammation.

The Mediterranean diet limits sodium, and refined carbohydrates.  Large amounts of sodium can increase blood pressure which can increase the risk of stroke or heart attack. Large amounts of refined carbohydrates such as sugar can cause a spike in blood sugar. They also have excess calories without nutritional benefit.

The Mediterranean diet is a great diet for anyone who wants to improve their overall health. I encourage you to take baby steps if you are thinking about starting any type of diet. Perhaps try the diet one day out of the week and add a day each week until you have a full week of the diet.

What Can I Eat on the Mediterranean diet?

FoodServing GoalServing SizeTips
Fresh fruits and vegetablesFruit: 3 servings per day; Veggies: At least 3 servings per dayFruit: ½ cup to 1 cup; Veggies: ½ cup cooked or 1 cup rawHave at least 1 serving of veggies at each meal; Choose fruit as a snack
Whole grains and starchy vegetables (potatoes, peas and corn)3 to 6 servings per day       ½ cup cooked grains, pasta or cereal; 1 slice of bread; 1 cup dry cerealChoose oats, barley, quinoa or brown rice; Bake or roast red skin potatoes or sweet potatoes; Choose whole grain bread, cereal, couscous and pasta; Limit or avoid refined carbohydrates.
Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)1 to 4 servings per day1 tablespoonUse instead of vegetable oil and animal fats (butter, sour cream, mayo); Drizzle on salads, cooked veggies or pasta; Use as dip for bread
Legumes (beans and lentils)3 servings per week½ cupAdd to salads, soups and pasta dishes; Try hummus or bean dip with raw veggies; Opt for a veggie or bean burger.
Fish3 servings per week3 to 4 ouncesChoose fish rich in omega-3s, like salmon, sardines, herring, tuna and mackerel
NutsAt least 3 servings per week¼ cup nuts or 2 tablespoons nut butterIdeally, choose walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts; Add to cereal, salad and yogurt; Choose raw, unsalted and dry roasted varieties; Eat alone or with dried fruit as a snack
PoultryNo more than once daily (fewer may be better)3 ouncesChoose white meat instead of dark meat; Eat in place of red meat; Choose skinless poultry or remove the skin before cooking; Bake, broil or grill it.
DairyNo more than once daily (fewer may be better)1 cup milk or yogurt; 1 ½ ounces natural cheeseChoose naturally low-fat cheese; Choose fat-free or 1% milk, yogurt and cottage cheese; Avoid whole-fat milk, cream, and cream-based sauces and dressings
EggsUp to 1 yolk per day1 egg (yolk + white)Limit egg yolks; No limit on egg whites; If you have high cholesterol, have no more than 4 yolks per week
Red meat (beef, pork, veal and lamb)None, or no more than 1 serving per week3 ouncesLimit to lean cuts, such as tenderloin, sirloin and flank steak
Baked goods and dessertsAvoid commercially prepared baked goods and desserts; Limit homemade goods to no more than 3 servings per week      Varies by typeInstead, choose fruit and nonfat yogurt; Bake using liquid oil instead of solid fats; whole grain flour instead of bleached or enriched flour; egg whites instead of whole eggs